A Hugely Coincidental Encounter With A Juvenile Short-eared Owl

The timing of this encounter yesterday morning was pretty special for me.


1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this handsome juvenile Short-eared Owl just after dawn yesterday morning in northern Utah. It was my first cooperative juvenile of the year so I was pretty excited to get this close and have the bird in good light. Wire isn’t my favorite perch but I prefer it over metal fence posts and when it’s old and rusty I don’t mind it so much.

It goes without saying that the combination of owls and barbed wire always makes me nervous for the safety of the bird but usually they seem to handle it just fine. I’m not fond of the wire’s shadow going across the legs but I don’t think it’s a big deal in this situation.



1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

The owl didn’t provide a lot of interesting poses but once it parallaxed me half-heartedly and I always enjoy their tilted heads when they do it, especially when they’re young birds.



1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

A different pose and crop will allow me to better illustrate some of the coincidences involved with this bird.

Last June we rescued a male Short-eared Owl entangled in a barbed wire fence. Regular readers know that after many months of rehab that bird was eventually placed with HawkWatch International where it will live out a pampered life as an education bird (it couldn’t be released back into the wild). HWI named him Galileo and I’m very, very fond of that bird.

Consider these coincidences:

  • Both birds were juveniles and this was the first juvenile I’ve photographed or even seen this nesting season
  • Galileo was rescued exactly one year ago today in the same general area
  • Notice the wire in the fence above. The barbed wire has been patched with wire that isn’t barbed. I had to cut the wire that Galileo was hanging from so it will eventually have to be patched too (it isn’t yet, I checked yesterday). The chances of finding this owl, another juvenile, exactly on a patch on this date were very, very slim.
  • Just before we found this bird I mentioned to Mia that I hoped I’d remembered to put the wire cutters back in the pickup (I’d taken them out recently for a project in my yard) in case we found another owl hung up in the wire. Damn, I’m glad this owl wasn’t entangled!

All these coincidences seem just a little bit eerie to me. I don’t believe in this kind of thing but I have to admit that the thought crossed my mind that this owl was reminding us of, possibly even thanking us for, a good deed done for its species a year ago today.

Silly of me, I know…


PS – Yes, both pairs of heavy-duty wire cutters are back in my pickup. It’s that time of year for juveniles learning the ropes (or the wires in this case)…



32 comments to A Hugely Coincidental Encounter With A Juvenile Short-eared Owl

  • karen

    Oh, I don’t think there are ‘coincidences’…this all came to pass for reasons that I think you
    already put forth in your post ;-D
    As always, thanks for your daily dose of wildness in my inbox….
    with gratitude! Karen

  • Chris Sanborn

    That perch IS pretty creepy, given last year’s experience with Galileo…but the youngster is just gorgeous/handsome, and I can appreciate that and the feeling that must have come over you & Mia when you discovered him, safely perched there. Let’s hope he stays safe!

  • Brett Evans

    Synchronicity is an interesting phenomenon. I often enjoy such instances. Are you familiar with the term apophenia? It is the human tendency to perceive meaningful patterns within random data. There is a good article in wikipedia about this state of mind. Our brains are such complex organs!

  • I am so glad that you and Mia were on hand (and more importantly prepared and ready to act). The alternative is horrifying.
    I am always glad to see healthy owls, but with just that one platform I would be very, very happy to welcome Laura as Queen of the World.

  • Laura Culley

    WOW! Personally, I just LOVE it when they do the head tilt thing, especially if it’s a full upside down! But just about any degree of tilt makes me melt into an AWWW! (Don’t forget, I’m really easily entertained…LOL!).
    When I become Queen of the world, there SHALL be changes. First of many is to rid the world of barbed wire! So be afraid. Be VERY afraid! HEHEHE!.
    And like you and April, I always have bird/critter emergency stuff in my Jeep. You just never know and the whole be-prepared thing works for me. It lessens MY stress
    Coincidences can be magical as this one. Have I mentioned that I love greeting your posts every morning. My computer isn’t playing nice with MS Outlook, so sometimes I can’t be bothered to deal with the pain of dealing with emails, but I’m always delighted to see what you and Mia have gifted me every day! Thank you!!

  • April Olson

    Beautiful bird, I still hope one day to photograph a juvenile. Since your encounters with 2 owls and barbed wire, I too now carry heavy wire cutters in my car.

    • I think that’s a VERY good idea, April. And perhaps a towel to wrap an injured bird in if necessary.

      • April Olson

        I have a bird emergency kit in each of our cars. Most of it the average person would not require (its rehab stuff) but I do suggest a towel and sturdy gloves.

  • Alice Beckcom

    What a charming little owl! I’m glad you had a good story to tell this year.
    Beautiful photos, Ron, and thanks for them.

    • Thanks very much, Alice.

      • Alice Beckcom

        I had to come back to this wonderful blog at almost midnight in SLC, as it left such in impression on me earlier. I had to share it with my bird lover friends as I knew they would enjoy the different photos and the literally ‘head-turning’ shots. All of this helps me through my painful challenges.

  • As a writer who deals in a lot of metaphors, the shadow of the wire on its legs is hard to ignore. Chilling picture. I’m THRILLED you didn’t need to use the wire cutters.

  • Susan Stone

    Interesting coincidences. It warms my heart to see a healthy, free juvenile where you found Galileo. I notice that the Owl is on the non-barbed wire, which is a good thing.

  • Patty Chadwick

    I don’t like these shots at all!!! When I saw the first one, I caught my breath and felt sick…the barbed wire perch was bad enough, but the shadow of the wire across the legs was kind of a last straw for me….I know this is all part of honest photography, showing birds where you find them, and that’s important, but these will never be favorites…There arec only a very few I hope not to see again….these are included…sorry!!!

    • That’s fine, Patty. Be forewarned though, I’ll likely continue posting birds on barbed wire. And with shadows on them. Wires and shadows happen.

      • Patty Chadwick

        I know…as I said, it’s part of “honest photography”…showing them where you find them…and I’ll continue to dislike them….

  • Charlotte Norton

    Super shots Ron!


  • Marty K

    Very spooky! I also cringed when I saw the barbed wire and then noticed the patch and that piece sticking up. I’m so glad this year’s encounter was a good one! He’s a beaut! The parallaxing shot is my fave — that pose always makes me smile. 🙂

    • Marty, SEO’s nearly always perch on the posts rather than the wires. This young one is still learning proper technique!

      • Marty K

        I’m always amazed by their ability to balance themselves on such a slender wire. Of course, I’m also in awe of the complicated routines done on a 4″ beam in gymnastics — I have trouble balancing on a flat piece of sidewalk! 😉

  • Joanne OBrien

    Beautiful photos once again. Love the one with the tilted head!

  • Judy Gusick

    Cool! I cringed when I saw the barbed wire it was perched on give Galileo’s experience (and yours)even if this one wasn’t entangled! The fence repairs indicate “something” happened there……… It is an eerie coincidence for sure and reminder of what can happen, but, probably, doesn’t most of the time!:) Nice shots of the SEO:)

    • Judy, when I think about the many hundreds of times I’ve seen SEO’s perched on barbed wire or fence posts and only once found a live one hung up in the wire I realize how seldom (relatively) it happens. But even once is waaaay too often!

  • Zaphir Shamma

    I am glad you were there last year to save that young owl. I am also glad you are there “on patrol” in case there is another owl incident. Lovely photos Ron, thank you for sharing.

    • Zaphir, the only thing worse than finding another owl hung up on barbed wire would be not finding it. It would be a slow, horrific death as it struggled to free itself. Thank you.